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Tanzania, United Republic of

Malnutrition a growing risk for Burundian refugee children in the United Republic of Tanzania

By Sandra Bisin

KIGOMA, United Republic of Tanzania, 23 June 2015 – Emelyne and her 1-year-old twin daughters Lydia and Floride are among the families at the busy nutrition centre in Nyarugusu camp, in Kigoma region. Children admitted with severe acute malnutrition are being given specialized feeding and therapeutic care to help rehabilitate them. Lydia and Floride have been receiving treatment for a week.

© UNICEF United Republic of Tanzania/2015/Khangarue Media
Emelyne with her infant daughters Lydia and Floride at a nutrition centre in Nyarugusu refugee camp, United Republic of Tanzania. The babies took sick during the family’s flight from Burundi and have been in treatment for a week.

“My daughters got sick when we reached Kagunga village in Tanzania, on the border with Burundi,” says Emelyne. “We stayed there for a week. The conditions were bad. We did not have enough to eat; many people were getting sick. My daughters had severe diarrhoea.”

Children in need of urgent support

One month after the first influx of 56,000 Burundian refugees to Nyarugusu camp in north-western Kigoma region, children under 5 are at risk of malnutrition and require urgent humanitarian support. More than 60 per cent of the refugee population in Nyarugusu camp are children.

Children have been disproportionately affected by unrest in Burundi. They have been uprooted from school. Some have been separated from their families. Others have been subjected to violence. Many are still suffering from common diseases because of a lack of basic health care, water and sanitation facilities.

Protecting the nutritional status of vulnerable populations affected in emergencies is essential to prevent acute malnutrition, disease and death. A major concern in emergencies is the increased risk of moderate and severe acute malnutrition among children.

Screening children for malnutrition

As refugees were being transported to Nyarugusu camp, UNICEF supported screening for malnutrition, in partnership with the Tanzania Red Cross Society. Screening targeted all children under 5 years of age

To date, almost 14,000 children have been screened for malnutrition. Seventy-five children have been identified as having severe acute malnutrition, and 91 as having moderate acute malnutrition. All of these children are receiving appropriate nutrition therapy.

Children with severe acute malnutrition like Lydia and Floride have been admitted to the nutrition centre in Nyarugusu camp for treatment. Thirty have already recovered. In addition, more than 3,200 children aged 6–59 months have received Vitamin A supplementation, and 6,250 children have been given deworming tablets. Almost 19,000 pregnant and lactating women have attended infant and young child feeding education sessions.

A comprehensive nutrition response

Although the rate of malnutrition remains low among the refugee child population, an increase in cases of diseases such as malaria and the limited capacity of health services are increasingly putting children at risk of malnutrition. UNICEF is working with national and international partners and the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania to deliver a comprehensive nutrition response that includes:

• Protecting and promoting breastfeeding for children under 2 years of age – a life-saving intervention;
• Providing essential micronutrient supplements for children and counselling mothers and families on how to feed young children with available foods;
• Supporting screening to identify children with severe acute malnutrition in Nyarugusu camp;
• Delivering specialized ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat children with severe acute malnutrition;
• Working through community private radio stations to deliver life-saving information on maternal and child nutrition to the refugee population. 

Back at the centre, Emelyne shepherds her daughters through their treatment. “I am confident my children will recover,” she says.



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